Hold Israel accountable with Leahy law
Apologists for Israeli occupation and apartheid claim that advocates for holding Israel accountable for its human rights abuses of Palestinians are “singling Israel out for extra scrutiny” or “holding Israel to a higher standard than other countries.”
Yet, ironically, Israel’s supporters also claim that U.S. military aid to Israel is sacrosanct and, unlike every other governmental program on the chopping block these days, cannot be questioned due to the “special U.S.-Israeli relationship.” Dan Carle, a spokesperson for Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), has noted correctly that you cannot have your cake and eat it too.
In response to an article in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz suggesting that the Vermont Senator will attempt to apply sanctions to certain units of the Israeli military for human rights violations, Carle explained that “the [Leahy] law applies to U.S. aid to foreign security forces around the globe and is intended to be applied consistently across the spectrum of U.S. military aid abroad. Under the law the State Department is responsible for evaluations and enforcement decisions and over the years Senator Leahy has pressed for faithful and consistent application of the law.”
The possibility of Senator Leahy consistently applying this eponymous legislation and holding Israel to the exact same standard as every other country has Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, whose office may have leaked the story in an effort to kill the initiative, in a tizzy.
The “Leahy Law,” as it is commonly known, prohibits the United States from providing any weapons or training to “any unit of the security forces of a foreign country if the Secretary of State has credible evidence that such unit has committed gross violations of human rights.” In the past, this law has been invoked to curtail military aid to countries as diverse as Indonesia, Colombia, Pakistan, and the Philippines. Along with other provisions in the Foreign Assistance Act, of which it is a part, and the Arms Export Control Act, it forms the basis of an across-the-board policy that is supposed to ensure that U.S. assistance does not contribute to human rights abuses.
Ha’aretz reports that the Senator is looking to invoke this prohibition regarding “Israel Navy’s Shayetet 13 unit, the undercover Duvdevan unit and the Israel Air Force’s Shaldag unit.” The inclusion of specific units in the story may indicate that Leahy already has findings from the Secretary of State that these Israeli military units have committed human rights abuses.
If so, then this could be a much-overdue watershed in holding accountable Israel, the largest recipient of U.S. military aid, for its gross misuse of U.S. weapons to commit systematic human rights abuses of Palestinians living under Israel’s illegal 44-year military occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip. During the last decade, on at least five occasions, Members of Congress have requested the State Department to investigate Israel’s misuse of U.S. weapons; to date, the State Department has failed to notify publicly the Congress about any such violation. The State Department also has refused to disclose documents related to these investigations in response to a long-standing Freedom of Information Act request filed by the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation.
It is time to end Israel’s impunity and hold up to the light of day the devastating impact that U.S. weapons transfers have on Palestinian civilians. From 2000 to 2009, according to research conducted by the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation and published at www.weaponstoisrael.org, the United States appropriated more than $24 billion in taxpayer-funded weapons for Israel. With this munificence, the United States licensed, paid for, and delivered to Israel more than 670 million weapons and pieces of related military equipment. In just three years (2007-2009), the United States gave Israel more than 47 million pieces of ammunition, or enough bullets to kill every Palestinian living under Israeli military occupation more than 10 times over.
Tragically, the prospect of Israel misusing these U.S. weapons to kill Palestinian civilians has been borne out too frequently. According to the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, from September 2000-December 2009, the Israeli military killed 2,969 Palestinians who took no part in hostilities, including 1,128 children. One such child, 10-year-old Abir Aramin, was killed by a rubber bullet, possibly supplied by the United States, which was shot into the back of her head when she was walking home from school.
For the sake of Abir and all Palestinians who are maimed, killed, or whose homes, farms, and infrastructure are wantonly destroyed in the course of Israel’s brutal military occupation, the United States must end taxpayer-funded weapons transfers to Israel and hold it accountable, just like every other country, for its violations of the law. To do anything less would be to unfairly hold Israel to a different standard.
Josh Ruebner is the national advocacy director of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, a national coalition of 375 organizations working to change U.S. policy toward Israel/Palestine to support human rights, international law, and equality. He is a former analyst in Middle East Affairs at Congressional Research Service.